Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Connection Between Heresy and Political Liberty

A strikingly disproportionate number of notable theologians who influenced the American Founding and establishment of political “republicanism” were theological unitarians. These figures, British and American Whigs, were instrumental in arguing on behalf of the American Revolutionary cause and in convincing the populace that political liberty was a God-given “inalienable” right. These theologians also, in large part, shaped the personal religious creed of America’s key Founders.

None other than Mark Noll, the preeminent scholar of America’s religious history has noted “[i]t was only when Christian orthodoxy gave way that republicanism could flourish.” A characteristic feature of Founding era republicanism was the institutional separation of church and state and the recognition of liberty, especially religious liberty, as an inalienable right.

Viewed in historical context, the logical connection between religious heresy and political liberty becomes evident. Church and state were once one in Western Civilization. Protestantism itself was a "dissident" movement and as such, dissident Protestants were subject to terrible mistreatment by the Roman Catholic Church or other dominant Protestant sects. And it was through this experience of mistreatment that dissident Protestants first began to argue for religious and political liberty. The theological unitarians, because they believed in what the orthodox considered soul damning heresies, were the most dissident of the dissidents. Think of John Calvin having Michael Servetus burned at the stake simply for publicly denying the Trinity!

As such unitarian theologians who risked death by publicly proclaiming their secret religious convictions had compelling reasons to argue for the separation of church and state and the establishment of religious and political liberty.

In any event, I hope this serves as a partial answer as to why I think studying religious disputes, heresies, Trinity denial, etc. is relevant to the history of America and American liberty.

44 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

“[i]t was only when Christian orthodoxy gave way that republicanism could flourish.”

But this is explained simply by the rise of Protestantism itself and its proliferation of sects. Unitarianism---or any given "heresy"---was an extension and symptom of it, but not a necessary one.

Mark in Spokane said...

Quite. The key dynamic was the rise of religious pluralism, a rise which occurred in Western Europe well before the Protestant Reformation. Even within the medieval Catholic Church, there was a large degree of mutually hostile religious camps -- the Franciscans and the Dominicans, for example, were fierce competitors, and there was tension between both of those mendicant orders and the established monastic orders. During the Counter-Reformation, the rivalry between the Franciscans and the then-new-up-and-coming Jesuits became not just strong but also bloody in some instances (like in Japan & China, where the Jesuits tried to use their influence with the authorities to persecute the Franciscans into abandoning the mission territory to the Jesuits).

The key is the pluralism. That pluralism need not have arisen from a denial of Nicene Christianity (although it did), nor from a denial of the pope's authority (although it did). The pluralism was already present, even in the heart of orthodox, Catholic Europe in the Middle Ages.

As in most things, we are still living in the Middle Ages!

Tom Van Dyke said...

I also question the truth of the bromide that in Christendom, church and state were united.

Perhaps when the state took over the church, but the church had little luck the other way around, yet that's what most folks say they fear most these days.

And in Protestantism, one church [heresy] would take over another!

King of Ireland said...

"A characteristic feature of Founding era republicanism was the institutional separation of church and state and the recognition of liberty, especially religious liberty, as an inalienable right."

Liberty was recognized long before then and inalienable rights as well. The religous liberty thing is an open case and I think you may have a point on this one. Though Mark gives a good retort.

But you went from saying that all the ideas were mostly from the Enlightenment to focusing on slavery and religious freedom to narrowing it down to religious freedom.

So if I am hearing you right you are saying the more soteriologically liberal the person the better chance they supported inalienable rights? That is a leap.

Witherspoon and others were as rights and natural law conscious as anyone.

I think what you are having a hard time seeing is that almost all of the arguments used during this era had already been used and it was by Catholic(Fransicans, Dominicans, Jesuits) Protestants(Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists) and more liberal sects like Universalists and Unitarians.

They were arguments that were so ingrained in Catholicism for 300-500 years that all these sects that exploded out of it already had the arguments at their disposal.

Do you think they just invented this stuff out of thin air and it still looked almost exactly like it did in the Middle Ages?

You saw how similar the words of Bellarmine and Aquinas were to the DOI. That cannot be a coincidence Jon. Hell I saw some things Manegold wrote that looked just like the DOI.

King of Ireland said...

But I do think the religious freedom angle is a valid one Jon like I said before. But we need to explore it more.

As far as the Bible goes I think you can make a case that part of the claim right of liberty that is the property of men as part of their own person would have to be freedom to worship.

Like I said, when not under the law that Israel chose for themselves, it seems God gave us the the choice to worship him or not.

I think it is a property issue, if you want to live on God's property in Eden you play by his rules if not then feel free to leave. In fact, Adam and Eve(allegorically) were evicted for trespassing. That is where I think Locke is wrong we are not God's property unless we choose to be.

So if God gives us the choice was should we not extend that to others?

But surely debatable. Good post!

King of Ireland said...

"“[i]t was only when Christian orthodoxy gave way that republicanism could flourish.”

Look at some of the Constitutional republics in Europe pre-Reformation like Aragon. Did orthodoxy need to give way for that to happen?

This is the same thing that Goldstone says and he is absolutely wrong because he does not know his European history.

This is the same exact thing as Villey saying that Ockham's nominalism was a pre-requisite for his rights talk. Total crap. That rights talkl was there and he borrowed from it extensively when he formulated his own thoughts.

John Adams the Unitarian and Samuel Adams the Trinitarian both had the same political theology.


I guess what I am saying is that if Enlightenment thought was a necessary pre-cursor to the Revolution then why did similar things like the English Revolution and other similar events in European history take place long before the Enlightenment was even a thought?

One has little to do with the other.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Michael Servetus, via the UUs, whom I've found to do very good work in their biography series.

http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/michaelservetus.html

Always some surprises when you do a little digging. Servetus was out in left field on more than the Trinity.

Chris said...

The Church did quite well in taking over in Italy (well into the 19 century, even), among the Byzantines, and to a lesser extent in Russia and Spain.

Which is to say, broad brushes cause you to color outside the lines no matter what the picture you are trying to paint.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Italian "papal states" did not do so well. The Avignon papacy either.

The Byzantine---Eastern Orthodox Church---is another matter entirely, Russia fits in there.

Spain? Great men like de Vitoria and de las Casas convinced the Pope to condemn Spain's abuses in the New world. Spain did not listen.

Please, sir. Re-check your assumptions and "common knowledge" before commenting. The church had poor luck at controlling governments.

Pinky said...

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The understanding of reality has come to be a very complicated issue.

There are those that claim it is simple just as it is recorded in the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis. And, those are the people who subscribe to the divine model of governance—the idea of the supreme sovereign ruler of all creation, Jehovah God.

They are the original conservatives. They KNOW the truth of reality and have no compunctions regarding their knowledge which is absolute. The Earth is a little over 6,000 years old. God created it and everything in and around it in six days. Everything else, including any theories that claim otherwise, is heresy.

The world as we know it—Western Civilization—was run under the organization of the Roman Catholic Church as an example of the divine model of governance. All justice is meted out by the sovereign ruler—there is no alternative authority. As it is in Heaven, so it is on Earth. The Roman Catholic Church claimed that authority when Galileo proved beyond the shadow of any doubt that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

Galileo came out of the cradle of liberalism in the Italian peninsula. His teachings were liberal and they flew in the face of the authority of the church. He was placed under house arrest and ordered to recant all of his findings that contradicted the teachings the church was giving to the masses. Much of his work was destroyed.

But, what Galileo did was to set the example for questioning authority. And, while the Catholic Church and its authorities were able to contain their teachings within their domain, liberalism was already alive and breathing throughout the outer areas of Catholicism’s reach and claims to be the spokespersons for God.

There followed a great surge of inquiry and questioning of authority we have come to call the Enlightenment—modernity.

Out of that surge of human liberality there came to be a political questioning of the divine model of governance itself. It took place on our continent within the colonies that were under the authority of the English monarchy.

Thinking developed as a result of the Enlightenment that led to the Declaration of Independence and the writing of the Constitution of the United States of America—a far cry from the divine model of governance according to the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church. America was Founded on principles and thinking straight out of the Enlightenment and modernity—political liberalism.

Put in plain words, the establishment of the United States of America is an affront to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. If we are to see the Founding of America as an outgrowth of modernity as history shows, then we must admit that there is something wrong with the divine model of governance that had been accepted for so long.

Was America Founded as an outgrowth of modernity?

Or, was it Founded to be a Christian Nation based on the ancient principles of divine governance?
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King of Ireland said...

Phil,

There are so many holes in that statement it is like swiss cheese. What in the world makes you think that no one questioned authority before the Enlightenment.

The Barons resisted both King and Pope in the whole Magna Carta ordeal. How do you deal with that?

King of Ireland said...

Jon

I think this topic is your book. How heretics promoted freedom of religion so it was legal to promote their heresy. Or worded better than that. I think you would have to show that they were anymore instrumental in this cause than the Baptists or other orthodox sects that were the minority where they were at.

Pinky said...

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To resist authority, King, is one thing.
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To successfully prove that authority is wrong is quite another.
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King of Ireland said...

You have to prove they are wrong to resist them in the first place according to the theory. What kind of authority are we talking about?

King of Ireland said...

From the dispatches post:

""The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.


So whatever belief in unalienable rights depends upon, it does not depend upon believing in those things; it is not by virtue of belief in those things that our notions of unalienable human rights derive."


How do you explain this Jon? You are effectively agreeing with Tom and I that political theology really has nothing to do with those things. Or am I missing something?

Pinky said...

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I was addressing the sovereign authority of the Catholic Church.
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King of Ireland said...

The Magna Carta backed them off go read about it. The Pope died and the next Pope legitimized it. The Authority of the Church was proven wrong so much so that they changed their mind.

Pinky said...

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KOI, my point dealt with heresy and liberalism. Did you miss that?
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Chris said...

Tom, your knowledge of history is limited, as usual. The Church ran Spain at times, and not at others. And I include the Eastern Church.

Sometimes it amazes me that you get upset at "bromides" while trading in little else. History is complex. Admit that, and you'll at least start being wrong. Right now, you can't even get there.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Church ran Spain at times, and not at others.

I have no idea what you're on about, in fact or in relevance.

I caught your act at this other blog posting as "-c"

Go away, tar baby.

King of Ireland said...

In regards to Spain I think it would come down to who's idea it was for the Inquisition? I am not entirely sure but someone should check.

Pinky said...

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Here's something* Steven B. Smith writes on this concern:
"Strauss's recovery of the esoteric tradition has been deeply controversial, to say the least. In the first place, there is the question of how we know when an author is writing in a way to deliberately conceal or obscure his teaching. There is, for example, genuine disagreement over whether Descartes's incorporation of God into his system was a strategic ploy or a genuine expression of his religious convictions. One could ask similar questions of a host of thinkers. Did Maimonides write to confirm or undermine a belief in the primacy of revelation? Did Machiavelli write to advise or usurp the prince? Did Locke's theory of natural rights, the virtual cornerstone of the Declaration on Independence, secretly contain a crypto-atheist and materialist tendency? The answers to these questions are obviously not self evident. It is clear from what Descartes about himself that he was writing with the example of Galileo's fate before the Inquisition strongly impressed on his mind, and we know from recent biographies of Locke that he wrote under constant surveillance--so much so that the Master of his Oxford College once referred to him as "the master of taciturnity."

* Page 7, 8 http://www.amazon.com/Reading-Leo-Strauss-Politics-Philosophy/dp/0226763897
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King of Ireland said...

So you are saying that we cannot trust anything these dudes wrote because it could have been there head if they dissented?

Maybe. But that opens up a can of worms as to if any history is reliable at all.

Pinky said...

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I'm only quoting what a respected scholar has to say.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

What is forgotten is that when Strauss' method is applied to history, the only thing that's important is how these thinkers were perceived by the non-Great Thinkers who were out there MAKING history.

Pinky said...

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What do you mean by, "Strauss's methods", Tom?
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Tom Van Dyke said...

"The forgotten kind of writing," as Strauss calls it, esotericism. You bury the radical ideas where only the knowing and careful reader can find them. The careless reader finds only a endorsement of prevailing orthodox wisdom, a confirmation of his own pre-existing biases.

As far as I can see, the Founders saw Locke as agreeing with the "judicious" Richard Hooker and traditional natural law theory.

The "real" Locke, the esoteric Locke, might be a radical, and that's Strauss' viewm and Zuckert's view, which Mark Noll uses as his foundation on Locke. The European continentals read him esoterically too, but the Founders read him exoterically, i.e., his surface meaning, unradically.

King of Ireland said...

"The "real" Locke, the esoteric Locke, might be a radical, and that's Strauss' viewm and Zuckert's view, which Mark Noll uses as his foundation on Locke. The European continentals read him esoterically too, but the Founders read him exoterically, i.e., his surface meaning, unradically."


I finally understand what you are saying when you state as the founders read him. In other words they were not reading him like a Straussian would. Never got that before.

Strauss sure has impacted this whole thing a lot. I think Tierney writes a lot of what he does to dispute Strauss.

I cannot make up my mind about him in that in our hedonistic society a return to the classical night law position of right relationships and order based on duties sounds good but I think we would regret it and end up losing all our rights.

I think he throws away the baby with the bathwater and does not need to if we can get back to the founding ideal of rights and duties. Where we are self interested but still think of our neighbor.

My comments at the end of my last post on Tierney took me four hours to right because I kept thinking about what was being said and processing it and changing my mind. Balance, balance, balance.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Very hard going on the Tierney, and well done.

Yes, he is disputing Strauss, who puts the modern "rights" regime as a product of modernity, which he he puts at beginning with Machiavelli blowing the covers of the esotericism of the classical philosophy, and then onto Hobbes, then Locke, whom he accuses of being a Hobbesian and a radical---a "modern"---divorced from the Christian tradition, canon law, Thomism, whathaveyou.

Actually for Strauss, Thomism and natural law is simply theology---founded on a belief in the Biblical God and thus religion, not philosophy.

Cicero and natural law may pose a problem however.

Thomas G. West on Cicero and Strauss, on my reading list for tonight...

Pinky said...

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I thought that was what you meant by Strauss's method. He taught his students how to read.
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I see a lot of people need to be read between the lines.
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King of Ireland said...

"Cicerro seems to have been more prominent early in the development of Canon law than the Greeks. I think at the time of Manegold Aristotle had not even been translated yet. Justin had a huge impact as well.

Yea, the Tierney thesis is some heavy lifting. I need to understand it to really understand the period that really interests me:

The late scholastics and era of Spanish conquest. They could have easily taken the constititutional republic principles from Aragon and that were taught at Salamanca and applied to the New World. We know what happened in the end.

I think I am calling it Jihad vs. McWorld Part 1.

I taught on this in class a few years back about the battle between Castilian and Aragonian culture and that the former Spartan-like view won out and made it to the Aztecs.

Many months later you told me that Cortez had dropped out of Salamanca. When I told the kids there mouths dropped and hit the floor. I think they saw how people's chooses affect things.

What a shame!

Same thing is gonna happen again and have to be straightened out later if we do not wake up. We still see the nasty remnants of the effects of slavery in this nation.

King of Ireland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...

The late scholastics and era of Spanish conquest. They could have easily taken the constititutional republic principles from Aragon and that were taught at Salamanca and applied to the New World. We know what happened in the end.

According to a number of historians I've read, the Scottish Calvinists and that bunch had no access to the Salamancans and late scholastics.

But that's the prevailing historical narrative, eh? Britain knew nothing of the ideas and happenings in the rest of Europe?

Regardless, the Dutch Protestant Hugo Grotius built heavily on the work of

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_Su%C3%A1rez

Francisco Suarez, so scholasticism gets to Britain that way.

And of course Filmer's Partriarcha is written in response to Suarez and Robert Cardinal Bellarmine. [Both Locke and Sidney wrote the First Treatise and Discourses Concerning Government respectively in response to Patriarcha, and Sidney explicitly mentions the "School divines," i.e., the scholastic clergy, as already in the vanguard for rights.

http://www.constitution.org/as/dcg_102.htm

"To this end [Filmer] absurdly imputes to the School divines that which was taken up by them as a common notion, written in the heart of every man, denied by none, but such as were degenerated into beasts, from whence they might prove such points as of themselves were less evident."

As we see here, Filmer tried to use anti-Catholicism to attract support for the Divine right of Kings.

Not your grandfather's secular/anti-Catholic historical narrative! When I started studying this stuff, I made the "reasonable" assumption it was the Roman Catholic Church behind the Divine Right of Kings. Au contraire, mon cheri.

Pinky said...

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But that's the prevailing historical narrative, eh? Britain knew nothing of the ideas and happenings in the rest of Europe?
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Fascinating.
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Mix that in with the thinking of neoconservatism that history has no meaning. What counts to them is that the view of reality embedded deep in our cultural roots supersedes history.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Pinky, because of your partisan leanings, you always have your dagger out behind your back for the neo-cons, which is why I never want to get into this with you.

Partisanship and contemporary politics injure this blog. We go down the wormhole at each other's throats and it takes a long time to get back to reality.

The neo-cons were not Strauss. they were not classical philosophy. The entire neo-con project was based on the Founding proposition, that all men yearn to breathe free.

The neo-con project is historicism, which Strauss would have abhorred---once the chains of the tyrant are thrown off, or in the neo-con vision, cut off by American military intervention against Saddam in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the people themselves would throw off history and embrace liberty and liberal democracy as the end of history and man's natural end.

It was Kojeve, or Fukayama, not Strauss.

Unfortunately, there are two complications to "man's natural desire for liberty": one is that liberty means nothing without order. You are free until the Taliban or some religious fanatic kills you. Thanks for the purple finger, America. Thanks for nothing.

Or you are free until the economy goes to hell and you're starving, and Stalin and Mao start looking better than "liberty." Everybody eats.

Or you're deeply religious, whether Islamic or Puritan, and a politics that lives in violation of the will of God [as your religious beliefs understand His will] is evil and corrupt.

Now, Strauss never understood America, in my view, even though he became a citizen and lived here most of his adult life. He saw "modernity" through European eyes and never gave "American Exceptionalism"---America being freed by Providence from the chains of European history---or any Christian exceptionalism any footing whatsoever in his view of classical vs. modern.

The classicals saw the permanent and perennial problems of mankind as insoluable; modernity and historicism are an illusion because man himself does not change.

Not via a "liberal" education, nor by any religion. Christianity for Strauss is just another otherworldly scheme, unsupportable by philosophy. And modernity---Kojeve---is just another utopian scheme. Even if we achieve the Universal Homogeneous State [and Strauss does not dispute that we might], it will suck, erasing all philosophy and disagreement and tension, and make mankind what Nietzsche calls The Last Man, a pathetic bourgeois suburban consumer who never rocks the boat. No guts and no glory. Homer and Achilles and the Iliad and Nietzsche and Strauss would be appalled.

In my office, I have a little sign that reads: "To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing." ---Clarence Thomas

Sorry to inject the hot-button Justice Thomas into what should be an unpartisan discussion. But it fits.

King of Ireland said...

Phil,

I have to agree. You keep bringing this up and it has nothing at all to do with the blog.

Pinky said...

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Interesting.

Sheeez, Tom, thanks for the compliment; but, I never was any good at being esoteric; so, how could you know about me having a bias?

My problem is that I put things on top of the table. I have, what you call, a whistle blower style about me. I rock boats. It's noting I want to do; it's just me.

.....

It doesn't seem to me that there's a single characteristic about neocons that can be explained one way or the other. These are postmodern times and, so, it seems like people are much more complex than to be nailed down one way or the other. There are many varieties of neocons just like their cousins the libertarians.

I have a bias?

What is it?

Pinky said...

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Maybe you don't see it; but, I think my comment was directly related to what Tom had posted.
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King of Ireland said...

"My problem is that I put things on top of the table. I have, what you call, a whistle blower style about me. I rock boats. It's noting I want to do; it's just me."

I am that way too but every post turns to Strauss and it, at least, seems that it is not to really understand Strauss so much or the reason and revelation or modern vs. classical and how it relates to the founding. It is not even to tie the history to some of the larger themes of today like Hunington and Fukuyama's pieces or Goldstone's piece.

I think all that is in play because history means nothing if we cannot relate it to today.

BUTTTT

If you are bringing up Strauss all the time at insert that Drury thinks the Neo Cons are assholes then it is just blantant political bickering. It has turned every internet site I have seen to shit when it occurs.

King of Ireland said...

I do not think that is what Tom was getting at. If it came up once in a while it would be one thing but it comes up all the time.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What Joe said, Phil.

I'm an unapologetic Gentleman of the Right, but I just admitted---without all the sound and fury---what may have been the fundamental philosophical defect of the neo-con project's primary assumption, that it's man's nature to want to breathe free.

Not getting dying violently or not starving might come first. That's Thomas Hobbes, BTW, especially the first.

We can get this done without neo-cons. We can get this done by treating Strauss simply as an observer of human nature and a bearer of the wisdom of the classic world.

Neither Plato nor Strauss were bad men. They called 'em as they saw them, and history is only 5000 years old, too short to draw definitive conclusions about man.

As Chou En-lai apocryphally replied when asked about the effects of the French Revolution, it's too soon to tell.

Pinky said...

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KOI, it's impossible to discuss the questions brought up here without recognizing the connection so much of the thinking presented is related to the subjects uncovered by Strauss.
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To not "go there" is to cut off part of the reality. Think, Blind Spot.
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Strauss was responsible for much of what we see as being relative to the Founding.
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You can hate that or you can love it. Neither way makes any difference. It remains. So, you have to face it.
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King of Ireland said...

Pinky,

I have done about 10 posts in the last two months that deal with Strauss in some way. That is not my nor Tom's objection. It is the constant pushing him to nail the Neo-Cons. I am not one and actually disagree with a lot they stand for but this is not a current politics blog. Nor should it be.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Wall Street Journal

August 26, 2010

Leo Strauss, Back and Better Than Ever.



By BRIAN BOLDUC
When President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, conspiracy
theorists suspected that a puppet master was behind him. No, not Dick Cheney.
The alleged puppeteer was the late Leo Strauss.
The famous professor of political philosophy, who died in 1973, had many
disciples in the Bush administration, and journalists had frequently misquoted
Strauss as arguing that "one must make the whole globe democratic." Opponents of
the war who were looking for a more sinister scapegoat than faulty intelligence
about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction put two and two together:
Strauss had given his pupils an imperialist itch, and now that they were in
power, they were scratching it.
Thanks to the Leo Strauss Center at the University of Chicago, where Strauss
taught from 1949 to 1967, this myth will soon face stricter scrutiny. The center
is uploading to its website written and audio recordings of Strauss's lectures,
many made by graduate students in the 1950s and 60s. Eventually, students
world-wide will be able to take courses by Strauss, free of charge.